Say bye to winter and hi to spring

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Beijing resembled Minsk this winter, with a blizzard on the first day of November, and another half-way through March. Ponder these 10 signs of spring, then burn them now the heating has turned off.

10. Goodbye to cloth door flaps.

None may enter the supermarket without passing those green blankets and no matter how quickly you move, you will feel their rough, bacterial caress. Or bump into someone in just as much of a hurry as you to get by them.

9. Hello to spring fashion

Spring to fall, Beijing comprises an ongoing fashion expo. Wannabe Tokyo-girls flaunt spiky hair and platform heels. Proto-punk girls in wild leggings and jacket-skirt combos seem to have just danced out of a 1980s MTV video. Sleek women step out of luxury cars, haute couture draped on greyhound-thin bodies. Come winter, it all goes under those puffy quilted coats that refuse to fall out of favor.

8. A truce in cab wars

Jockeying for taxis in Beijing always demands a certain selfish aggression, but when the mercury drops, so do the gloves. Nothing brings out the hidden warrior in an office lady like a poacher who sprints 20 meters past her freezing watch-post, to steal the one rush hour taxi with its red light on. If the wind hasn't turned your cheeks red, office lady's angry curse words will.

7. Child's play

Spring truly begins with the first ayi screaming at her young charge to slow a bit, the piercing shriek of that future opera star who only wants to tag and get chased, the rolling grumble of kids on those bizarre skateboards with hinges in the middle. Kiddy music doesn't soothe, it warms.

6. Stretching for time

The old folks' playground lies vacant during winter, except for that one tough old thing, pounding her raised legs on a yellow-metal pommel horse while you hurry by to work. Five degrees Celsius means 5 am group calisthenics. You wake to loud hawking and greeting, resentment quickly giving way to admiration.

5. Lunch roam

By February, your collection of eateries fills you with despair. "Warm Yoshinoya is better than cold feet," you sob into a bowl of so-called miso. That first day the sun really returns, you join the stampede of lunch-hour roamers, as famished and hopeful as freshly liberated POWs.

4. Return of the short pants

The old-timers insist on leaving their long underwear on until May Day, but can you take another morning of sucking in your stomach to button your pants? It's not fat! It's the long johns! They wedge in hidden places; they peek brashly from your trouser bottoms. To the back of the closet with them - hallelujah!

3. Long day's journey into night

Nothing kills the spirit like stepping out of your office into the inky curtain of Beijing winter night. Is that all life is, to labor at your keyboard, then go home in darkness?

Ah, but when you've gone home, eaten dinner, and can still enjoy sunset from the corner of your eye as you stare at the television - that's real living.

2. The streets bear fruit

Not those fist-sized, flavorless strawberry abominations you see in subway entrances during the cold months. Beijing's spring palette is a sidewalk array of small but spunky tangerines, thin-skinned mangoes, coral-colored melon slices; all that's sweet, sold by the salt of the earth.

1. The whole blooming city

Beijing is an impressive symphony of time-worn brick blended with concrete, steel and glass, yet like any city in winter plays a gloomy requiem, all dragging cello and ominous drum, no light flute, no bracing touch of fragile plant life. Naked trees don't count.

But even the brassy clamor of Chang'an avenue softens when viewed from under a bower of willow.

The whiff of malatang that braced you in winter is a brief, embarrassing wrong note to the wafting perfume of osmanthus.

The scents and sounds of Beijing are as varied as the sights, and spring does much to make the balance agreeable.

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